on the page magazine

issue no. 6, winter 2001–2002


tales of failure

winners of OtP's 150-word challenge

Little League   by Sue Repko
Proper Etiquette   by Dana Berry
The Smell of Cut Grass   by Dana Berry
Eating His Lunch   by Scott McKee
Loops   by Marion de Booy Wentzien
Perfection   by Kathee Rebernak
Point B   by Blair Oliver

Little League
by Sue Repko

     It's 1974. The grit from the infield is in her mouth as she steps to the plate amid the jeers and cries of "Girls, go to hell!" from fat white people smoking cigarettes in their tattered lawn chairs. She digs into the box, eyeing the pitcher, praying he'll throw four balls before he throws three strikes, or that she'll at least make contact, or maybe—just maybe—get a hit. He's gotta be nervous. Can't let a girl hit him. But her bat meets no ball this time. When she turns around, she is careful not to look at the crowd, only her glove at the end of the bench. She picks it up and runs slowly away from them all, the hazy summer air parting in front of her, ushering her to the sweet, solitary grass of right field where she can wipe away tears that no one sees.

Proper Etiquette
by Dana Berry

     Herbert DeLong made a point of letting anyone who annoyed him know that they were doing so. If they wore too much cologne, he would bunch up his nose and wave at the air madly. If they were talking too loudly he would talk louder. Herbert liked to imitate people with headset phones by gesturing with his hands while arguing with himself about recreational versus regimental masturbation.
     During a business lunch Herbert told a potential client that he ate like a hyena. The potential client told Herbert that he had the complexion of a pork rind. When the client's cell phone rang and he reached in his jacket to answer it, Herbert stuck a fork to his throat and told him he would perform a tracheotomy if he answered.
     The operation was successful and Herbert is now practicing regimental masturbation in San Quentin Prison.

The Smell of Cut Grass
by Dana Berry

     The inventor of the lawnmower tricycle was named Henry Harding and he lived in Wichita, Kansas with his wife and five small boys. Henry worked in the Dillman Hardware store on Main Street. Henry saved the extra pennies left in the change dish and on his eldest son's fifth birthday was able to buy a red tricycle because of the 25 percent discount offered once in a Dillman employee's tenure. Henry's wife didn't care for exuberance and told Henry to return it for something practical. Henry, being resourceful and a hardware store employee, brought home the blades to an old push mower and replaced the front wheel of the tricycle with it. The tricycle was handed down from son to son and for five years the Harding's had the trimmest lawn in the neighborhood. After six years the lawn became overgrown and Henry's wife told him he wasn't worth the time of day.

Eating His Lunch
by Scott McKee

     Bill had the idea first. He saw how easy they would be to make, knew that people would use them every day. But his boss rejected Bill's idea out of hand, saying, "We're not in that business." So Bill let the idea drop.
     Failure is part of business: dot-commers with marginal ideas who got funding but couldn't make their businesses work; telecom executives who had good ideas but expanded far too quickly and saw their companies buried by debt. These are failures, but glorious ones; each originator had a vision, rallied support, gave it a shot, and had his or her day in the sun.
     Yet the cruelest failures are the quietest: those like Bill, who have great ideas but for some reason can't pull them off. Eventually, someone else gets the same idea, makes it work, and claims the rewards. For Bill, the reminder of his failure came every day when he unwrapped his sandwich and thought of the millions he could have made on sandwich bags.

by Marion de Booy Wentzien

     "If you marry a stupid man, expect stupid children." Mom after four shots of Vodka. She didn't like Henry. Whenever Henry's gaze met mine, something lost inside me felt found. Sex was great.
     After a year small details that morning coffee and toe rubs couldn't make up for surfaced. I cleaned teeth all day. Hundreds of yellowed or capped chompers. Henry couldn't keep a job. Henry lived for harness races and duplicate bridge. He left the night I trumped his ten of hearts.
     Henry junior, age four, is learning to tie his shoes. His fingers roll the lace, then lose their grip. I hold my breath as he twists the loop over his thumb for the twenty-third try. The lower lip pout is Henry's, the furrowed brow mine. And then suddenly there it is. A bow. Lopsided but somehow perfect.

by Kathee Rebernak

     A dozen short stories line my file cabinet, something wrong with each only I can't put my finger on what. A hundred poems or more, neatly typed and titled, fill the pages of my black vinyl notebook. But what do I know from poetry? Four manuscripts languish in my bottom desk drawer—one too commercial, another with insurmountable plot problems. One I'm sick to death of, I can't count the times I've revised it. And one that shows some promise but there are thousands of others out there just like it so why bother.
     No agent has told me this over a glass of Perrier with lemon. No thank-you-for-your-submission-but-we-really-hated-it letter has graced my mailbox. No yawning silence has followed my query. No query has ever left my desk.
     Yet I call myself a writer. I write, I edit, I open my drawer and add another to my very own slush pile.

Point B
by Blair Oliver

     Next, your mother struggled to drag the tree inside to surprise you. Your breath crashed against the pane. The tree was taller than a man, but you did not help her. "Is there anything wrong with your parents?" the baby sitter once asked. You strung up anniversary balloons and said don't be silly.
     So have a drink—you've never been brave. Photos of you and your girlfriend are on mantels. You missed the move from refrigerator doors.
     Friends suggest it's because you're the product of divorce. Who isn't? After gin you tell yourself you're leaving because of the child, but that's shame talking. Her littering upsets you more than her not having the baby.
     But there are things you want to tell your child: we were young, etc. We failed.
     This is what you think of before the alarm sounds.
     You touch her hip. You will grow old like this.

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